TRASK ON BASQUE.

Larry Trask, who made a prior Languagehat appearance in this entry, has a useful Basque page, prefaced with the following pointed caveat:

But please note: I do not want to hear about the following:
Your latest proof that Basque is related to Iberian / Etruscan / Pictish / Sumerian / Minoan / Tibetan / Isthmus Zapotec / Martian
Your discovery that Basque is the secret key to understanding the Ogam inscriptions / the Phaistos disc / the Easter Island carvings / the Egyptian Book of the Dead / the Qabbala / the prophecies of Nostradamus / your PC manual / the movements of the New York Stock Exchange
Your belief that Basque is the ancestral language of all humankind / a remnant of the speech of lost Atlantis / the language of the vanished civilization of Antarctica / evidence of visitors from Proxima Centauri

(Thanks to Vidiot for the link.)
Addendum. Thanks to Pat of fieldmethods.net for this excellent interview with Trask; I was sad to read at the end: “Illness has robbed him of his voice, so that this interview had to be conducted entirely by email.”

Comments

  1. After looking at Trask I just googled around on “bizarre”, which a Spanish dictionary told me long ago was a Basque word originally. And found your site.
    It’s still very interesting that bizarro in Spanish or Portuguese means “brave, noble, elegant” etc., very far from the English meaning. The Spanish Armada must be at fault.

  2. Trask is one of my favorite authors, as far as linguistics goes. I never hesitate to recommend A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics, which is full of even-handed discussions of more linguistic terms than Panini could peruse.
    His A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology is equally useful, if a bit more erudite. But then, isn’t everybody interested in knowing what diplophonia, anthropophonics, and pneumotachographs are?

  3. Well, I certainly am! Thanks for the recommendations.

  4. Trask’s exasperated posts against pseudo-linguistic numbskullery on the sadly defunct Indo-European list are missed. Oh, well.

  5. Oh, and I just ran across this nice interview with Trask in the Guardian. It turns out that he himself is an interesting character: he was born in Appalachia, but has lived in England since the seventies. And it’s *really* fun to hear him tear into Chomsky.
    But then, doesn’t everybody want to tear into Chomsky?

  6. He left out the Voynich ms.

  7. good point 🙂

  8. Hmmph, I sent you this link–pointing out that very quote–some months ago. *sulks*

  9. Damn — sorry, Karl! I must have been in a fugue state. See, that’s why I needed a vacation.

  10. Chomsky! Mmmmmm-mmmm. Nothing like a nice piece of Chomsky between two slices of rye.
    I don’t know what “pneumotachographs” is, but it’s immediately become one of my favorite-sounding words.
    Oh, and Hi Pat!

  11. Moira!
    What’s up you!
    Mr Hat, you may be interested to know that I have known Moira since blogging was but wee.
    Sorry for playing tag in your comments. 8^)

  12. No, no, I think of my comments as a cafe where people can chat about whatever they like, and I’m delighted to discover that two of my favorite bloggers are old acquaintances!

  13. I’m sad to report that Professor Trask died on Saturday, after a long illness. A real tragedy. Certainly he was one of my own favourite linguists, although I admit I’ve yet to read any of his more substantial works.

  14. Damn. I’m very sorry to hear that; he was one of mine as well.

  15. Trask made a career on the premise that the origins of the basques and their language can Never be known. Not to mention his assertion that the basque language is so unique that it has nothing in common with other lanugages.He even claims in his FAQ that nobody knows where the basques came from; turns out that paleoanthropologists have traced the basques to the middle east.The closest to the basques[both linguistically AND genetically] are the Hunza of Pakistan.I also wonder what the likelyhood that the basque word for water : Ur is a loneword from sumerian.

  16. Luis Martins says:

    Rest in Peace.

  17. The possibility of Larry Trask hearing about that Basque is related to such as Pictish no longer exists now, and thank God.

  18. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I don’t want Larry Trask to be rolling over in his grave, but I came across this abstract by Juliette Blevins of CUNY claiming that (Proto-)Basque and Proto-Indo-European are related. I can’t find anything published on it, only talk abstracts and notes by a participant. Does anybody know anything about it?

  19. Trond Engen says:

    It’s from the Oslo conference in 2013. It’s not in the Selected Papers.

    It’s very intriguing, but I’d have thought she’d have been busy expanding on it if there was any progress to make. OTOH, she has research interests and projects all over the map.

  20. Stephen C. Carlson: I doubt Trask is rolling in his grave. In his writings on Basque he bemoaned the fact that scholarship attempting to related Basque to other languages was as a rule done by people who knew little and cared less about the diachronic phonology of Basque. Whether Juliette Blevins is right or wrong, her theory (if her abstract and the notes are anything to go by) is based on a close engagement with scholarship on the history of Basque.

  21. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Thanks for your comments. It didn’t seem to have the usual red flags of crankdom for me, except of course the ultimate claim of relating Basque to anything else. It looks like she’s still working on it. There was a talk at Harvard last year.

    I also found online the recent thesis of her Ph.D.student on Basque historical phonology on academia. Presumably some of that research is feeding into her work.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    The abstract and the notes do sound intriguing, but internal reconstruction always has the problem that it has infinite degrees of freedom at one end. I also expect a lot of very old borrowings in both directions. I’ll read the thesis.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    I’m only 38 pages in, and the thesis already contains surprises. Most kinds of Basque assign stress to the second-to-last or the second syllable of a word or stem by default, some prefer the end of a phrase almost like French, but there’s one group of dialects that has a system which works like that of Standard/Tokyo Japanese.

  24. Fascinating! Where is that group located?

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Only given as “Northern Bizkaia”; but a few place names are mentioned, of which I recognize Guernica.

    Also, I mixed things up: this is the same system that has phrase-final stress, namely on unaccented words. “In this system, the accent is assigned morphologically. There is a lexical distinction between accented and unaccented words. Unaccented words are formed by the combination of unaccented morphemes. Most native stems and singular affixes are unaccented. When combined with unaccented morphemes, the accent surfaces phrase-finally when these words precede the verb or when they are produced in isolation (3.7a). When unaccented words do not precede the verb, they do not have accent (3.7b) […]. Accented words have at least one accented morpheme, which can be either the stem or an affix. Compounds and plural inflectional suffixes are accented, as well as most derived words and loanwords.” (p. 32) – According to the given examples, those suffixes are preaccenting: the accent surfaces not on them, but on the syllable that precedes them.

    As in, specifically, Tokyo, the first syllable of a “phrase” has low pitch, and all following ones have high pitch till the accent comes or the “phrase” is over. Syllables after the accent have low pitch again.

    Having explained the three regional accent systems and all attempts to explain how they developed, Egurtzegi suddenly mentions (p. 54 onwards) that there’s a fourth system, found “in the south-western High Navarrese variety of Goizueta”. This, unlike Japanese, is classical pitch accent: every word has a stressed syllable which has either high or low pitch relative to its surroundings. There are minimal pairs like gizónari “to the man” vs. gizònari “to the men”. Low pitch is basically found in the same words that are accented in the North Bizkaian system, so the plot thickens.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    Finished. One of the cited sources is this delightful book from 1729:

    EL IMPOSSIBLE VENCIDO.
    ARTE
    DE LA LENGUA
    BASCONGADA.

    The text begins after a long list of dedications and permissions to print:

    HASTA aora han tenido por impoſsible reducir à methodo, y reglas el Baſcuenze, no ſolo los ignorantes, ſino tam bien los doctos, no ſolo los estraños, ſino tambien los proprios: y aun el dia de oy ay mil incredulos, que juzgan, que Arte, y del Baſcuenze son terminos implicatorios, mas de los del hircocervo.

  27. Delightful indeed!

  28. David Marjanović says:

    15-minute video explaining the basics of how Japanese accentuation works.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    The text begins after a long list of dedications and permissions to print:

    And, I should have mentioned, a thorough and hilarious explanation of just how fucking awesome the Noble and Loyal Province of Guipúzcoa is. (Basque continues to be spoken there today.) You have three guesses about where the author came from, and the first two don’t count.

  30. Do I get it right that Manuel de Larramendi compares Basque to an elk?

  31. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t know. Boselaphus tragocamelus comes to mind…

  32. DLE says LL hircocervus = Sp alce¹ = Sv älg (denotationally), but Sp hircocervo is some sort of chimera. Seems people in 18th century Spain didn’t believe in elks and Larramendi was saying that doubters considered learned treatment of Basque to be just as impossible.

    (And why the Late Latinos would think that the elk is the cervine most like unto a billygoat I am not sure at all).

    What luck that elks do in fact exist!

  33. David Marjanović says:

    just as impossible

    Just as contradictory in terms.

  34. I wouldn’t believe in moose (= European elk) either if I hadn’t seen them.

    Some Americans took their Scottish relative to the zoo, and after showing him the moose, he said, “If that’s your moose, I dinna want to see your rats!”

  35. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    It’s been about two and half years since I had noticed Blevins’s talk on PIE and Proto-Basque. Is it too soon to assume that nothing will in fact pan out from the idea?

  36. David Marjanović says:

    The abstract of that talk appears to have been the last update to Blevins’s homepage. No publications are listed since 2015, except for four “to appear” which aren’t about Basque.

    The youngest paper on Egurtzegi’s Academia page is from last year, but it’s a small part of his thesis.

  37. There’s a new book chapter, Basque and the reconstruction of isolated languages, by Lakarra. I haven’t looked at it yet. It makes passing (unfavorable) references to Blevins’s work.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    unfavorable

    Egurtzegi’s thesis must have been fun: Lakarra and Blevins were his supervisors.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    In the process, Lakarra misquotes (footnote 21) Blevins’s Ongan-Austronesian hypothesis (after the Onge people of the southern Andamans) as “Tongan-Austronesian”… and the paragraph on “Macrocomparison” contains a few head-scratchers.

  40. David Eddyshaw says:

    Quotha:

    Comparison is of no scientific interest except when, undertaken in strict conditions, its objective is to illuminate the structure of the languages under study and the changes produced within them, especially irregularities, exceptions, fases sparitas, stages with little or no documentation, impossible or difficult to investigate in the language (or dialect) itself.

    It’s one thing to say (rightly) that comparative work is unlikely to be sound if it doesn’t in fact illuminate the structure of the languages under study; quite another (and false) to imply that it has no other scientific interest. Particularly false to imply that one is not even engaged in true science unless one’s objective is of an approved kind.

    “Fases sparitas” perhaps could do with being rendered into English (or left out, as the following words presumably are the rendering. Took me a few doubletakes before I realised it was Spanish.)

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    Actually Italian (though pluralised in the Castilian manner) judging by some cursory Googling. Is it in fact some accepted term of art I’m just too ignorant to know about? (Such things have happened before…)

  42. I found this sentence naming the kinds of phases of language development: “Im allgemeinen werden die Normen mit Kurzformeln benannt: «Fase rimasta nell’ area piü isolata», «Fase conservata in aree laterali», «Fase conservata nell’area maggiore», «Fase conservata nell’area seriore», «Fase sparita».” All languages begin in the “disappeared phase”, but in Basque it is in the middle (temporally speaking) of our evidence: nothing between the Aquitanian proper names and the Basque written tradition, as if we had only Norse runes and the post-1550 continental Scandinavian languages.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    I was at the conference where Egurtzegi presented his work. Since I knew nothing about the history of Basque, it was rather hard to follow, let alone form an opinion.

    I read Blevins’ Ongan-Austronesian hypothesis when it came out, but was not convinced by her conclusion that the two groups were “sisters”, on the same level, or even that Ongan was older than Austronesian, rather than Ongan being a member of the Austronesian family . After all, if Austronesians were able to travel as far as Madagascar, some of them could have gone to the Andaman islands and settled next to the Andamanese. The opposite scenario – Ongan starting in the Andamans and then giving birth to Austronesian is rather far-fetched. As for her PB-PIE article, the lexical resemblances and the number of phonological simplifications from PIE to PB would seem to support widespread borrowing into PB rather than common origin.

    I just read (perhaps “skimmed” would be more accurate given my lack of Basque) Lakarra’s article, which looks much more professional than Blevins’, but I did not see the paragraph on ‘Macrocomparison’ – where is it?

  44. David Marjanović says:

    It’s 4.2 on page 7, and lumps the usual crackpottery, Greenberg/Ruhlen-style comparison and Bengtson’s serious attempt (which appears to have culminated in this large pdf) without any indication that they’re three separate things.

    ================

    From the comment from 20 January 2005:

    The closest to the basques[both linguistically AND genetically] are the Hunza of Pakistan.

    Linguistically perhaps. Genetically? Nope, genetically the Basques are really hard to distinguish from their neighbors on all sides. They have a bit less Yamnaya ancestry than their northern neighbors and a bit more than their southern neighbors…

    I also wonder what the likelyhood that the basque word for water : Ur is a loneword from sumerian.

    Seeing as that was the name of a city in Sumerian, not the word for “water”, which was a, I can’t distinguish the likelihood from zero.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    David M: Thanks, I guess I was reading too fast to even notice the heading.

    genetically the Basques are really hard to distinguish from their neighbors on all sides

    I read that the Basques have a fairly high percentage of Rh negative blood. My mother, whose parents were from a village in Languedoc, had this blood!

  46. I […] was not convinced by her conclusion that the two groups were “sisters”, on the same level, or even that Ongan was older than Austronesian, rather than Ongan being a member of the Austronesian family

    Surely a distinction without a difference. When the Anatolian languages were discovered to be related to Indo-European as we knew it, some claimed that the former were a sister group to the latter, and called the new root language (Proto-)Indo-Hittite; others claimed that Anatolian had special relationships to this, that, or the other specific IE family. The communis opinio has rejected the name “Indo-Hittite”, but accepted the hypothesis that Anatolian was the first to separate: we have simply moved the name “Indo-European” to the new root of the tree.

    Similarly, if we were to accept that Proto-Ongan is the first (because most deviant) branch from Proto-Austronesian, it wouldn’t matter if we called the new root Proto-Austronesian-Ongan or just shifted the referent of “Proto-Austronesian” up a level. Historically Austronesianists have taken the first option (they did not redefine “Proto-Malayo-Polynesian to encompass the Formosan languages), but it’s all just terminology.

    I agree that it would be surprising if the Austronesian family began in the Andamans, but then the idea that it began in Taiwan is surprising too (and has been questioned), and people have posited a pre-Taiwan mainland origin on little or no evidence (the idea that the landward/seaward directionality reconstructed for PAN “doesn’t work” on islands because every direction is seaward, forsooth!) It has to begin on some island or other, after all (the Malayic and Chamic languages spoken on the mainland are clearly the result of remigration from the islands).

  47. David Marjanović says:

    I read that the Basques have a fairly high percentage of Rh negative blood.

    Oh yes, that’s true! But that’s pretty much all the difference there is, and it’s also found in isolated mountain valleys elsewhere.

    When the Anatolian languages were discovered to be related to Indo-European as we knew it, some claimed that the former were a sister group to the latter, and called the new root language (Proto-)Indo-Hittite; others claimed that Anatolian had special relationships to this, that, or the other specific IE family. The communis opinio has rejected the name “Indo-Hittite”, but accepted the hypothesis that Anatolian was the first to separate: we have simply moved the name “Indo-European” to the new root of the tree.

    But that was never intended. Instead, the average of the second view (worded as “Anatolian can be entirely derived from PIE as previously reconstructed”) won out in the mid-20th century, making the name “Indo-Hittite” a useless synonym of “Indo-European”; the habit of calling Anatolian “IE” became so entrenched that when the first view gradually came back in the late 20th century, the habit stuck, and the name “Indo-Hittite” (which hadn’t been completely forgotten) didn’t catch on anymore. (“Oh, come on, Anatolian can almost entirely be derived from PIE as previously reconstructed, we don’t need to stop calling it IE. Let’s just turn our reconstruction of PIE into a time-averaged mess without thinking about it any further.”)

    the idea that the landward/seaward directionality reconstructed for PAN “doesn’t work” on islands because every direction is seaward, forsooth!

    Seriously? Taiwan is the size of Austria. There are still people in central Sardinia who have never seen the sea.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    the idea that the landward/seaward directionality reconstructed for PAN “doesn’t work” on islands because every direction is seaward, forsooth!

    “Landward” and “seaward” are not necessarily considered from the point of view of very long distances. Similar concepts are used on the other (= American) side of the Pacific Rim, and they are likely to refer to walking up the beach or pushing a boat into the water rather than crossing the entire island.

  49. This raises an unrelated linguistic question for me. In my idiolect, up the beach means a direction parallel to the shore. While a meaning of inland, and hence physically upward from the water line is comprehensible, it is unidiomatic. Moreover, unlike up the hill or up the river, the upward direction on a beach is essentially arbitrary.

    I know this meaning is not unique to me, but is the feeling that up the beach needs to be parallel to the water line a personal idiosyncrasy?

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Like “down the street”? I suppose it’s likely to depend on how flat the beaches (…or streets) are that you’re used to.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    Sorry, I was not aware of the “parallel to water” meaning of up the beach. To me it means “upward perpendicularly to the water line” in the direction of dry land.

  52. Hmm, for me I feel like it could mean either depending on context (i.e. whether you’re coming in from the water or taking a stroll without getting your feet wet).

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar, in any case the problem was whether “seaward” is ambiguous when specifying a direction in the context of islands. It might be when looking at a very large scale map, but not from the point of view of a person walking or handling a small boat.

  54. My wife, who lived in Florida for ten years, says that up the beach does indeed mean ‘along the beach’, but that it is not arbitrary: it means ‘toward the center of the beach and away from the nearer end’, whichever it may be. When the subject is something coming from the water, however, such as waves, whales, or soldiers, up the beach means ‘inland’.

    There are still people in central Sardinia who have never seen the sea.

    “We are fully three thousand miles from the ocean.”

  55. It all goes back to anabasis vs. katabasis. Xenophon’s Anabasis devoted one book to the anabasis, and 6 to the katabasis.

  56. Lars (the original one) says:

    I saw that book in a little bookselling stand on a street corner the other day, mixed in with the popular novels. Of course, since I’m in México right now, it was by Jenofonte.

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